I so wish that Texas wasn't so FOCUSED on TAKS - wish they'd let the kids just enjoy, and be kids. At least, until 2nd grade for crying out loud! But THAT is a whole 'nother issue tied tightly to "No Child Left Behind". As Newsweek reports, it's cut school field trips, it's cut play learning, it's cut so much. Obviously, I am not a huge fan. I get the point ... but I also get that my kids should paint, play and enjoy their learning. And cutting the trips to museums, theater and more, well I think it's folly.I was a Texas teacher in what now seems like a former life. I taught when Bush was governor and he was using Texas as a testing grounds for "no child left behind." My last year of teaching he was, as president, revealing his educational master plan to the nation. When I taught virtually every teacher training, every assignment or project, every aspect of classroom practice was focused on one thing and one thing only: TAAS Testing and improving scores. (the current incarnation of the test is know as TAKS-Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, but I will use TAAS-Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, since I taught in the TAAS era)
What makes a test high stakes? Well this test can be used to retain a student even if their grades are passing, teacher's annual evaluations are directly linked to student performance on the TAKS, seniors cannot graduate from high school if they do not pass the test EVEN IF THEY HAVE PASSING GRADES, (ever hear of test anxiety, well this is bound to make it worse!). The data from the test is used to rate schools and accredit districts. The state can come in a take over a school if the scores are too low. It is not unusual the morning of the test to see kids crying just from stress of it all, we even had children get physically sick and vomit.
Now I took standardized tests as a kid in school. I remember carefully filling in the little bubbles. I don't remember spending a lot of time talking about the test or taking practice tests before hand. I don't remember being particularly stressed, bored, but not stressed. A few months after the test I remember taking home a test report to my parents, but I certainly don't remember sitting in class going over the report section by section.
The bulk of my years teaching were spent in second grade. This is not a TAAS grade, testing starts in third grade. This did not mean that my classroom was free from the effects of the TAAS, far from it. From the first week of school we carefully formated questions on assignments to match the format of the TAAS. We gave TAAS practice mini tests every Friday. We carefully included extra information in math word problems (the TAAS math test is all word problems -which makes it also a reading test- on top of that most of the problems contain extra information to confuse the student). Every week for homework there was at least one day of TAAS math and one or more TAAS formatted reading passage. We gave the second graders last years TAAS test to make sure they were on track to pass in third grade. For the vast majority of students this was very discouraging since we were essentially giving them a test which they had no real chance of passing, it is a third grade test given in the spring, over half way through third grade. It is a test designed for students in third grade. It is not intended for second graders, but we gave it to them anyway. I was even told by one administrator that if it wasn't on the test she didn't want to see it in my classroom.
I think many things done in the name of the test are not good teaching practice. I felt then and I feel now that schools are creating a generation of good test takers not good thinkers. We are deliberately training children to think with in the narrow confines of the test. I am not alone in my frustration with the system. Parents hate seeing the effects of such intense stress on their children. Teachers resent not being able to TEACH!
Texas has incredibly high rate of teacher burn out. When I graduated from college in 1994 I was told look around, really look, because within five years 60% of the prospective teachers in that room would leave teaching and would never teach again. I understand the odds of making a long term career out of teaching are even worse now. I made it through seven years of teaching and when I left the classroom for the last time I certainly never intended to enter it again.
Now I am thinking I may return to the classroom. No one is more surprised by this than me. What changed my mind? My children are now attending an international school overseas. They do testing, but only as one of a number of tools used to track student performance, not as a weapon to damage children's confidence and intimidate teachers. I have been volunteering in the classroom and what I see happening there is amazing. Writing is being taught as a creative process not a formula. There is a huge emphasis on creating well rounded individuals with diverse interests. My kids attend art and music classes. They go to PE. In their computer classes they are taught actual computing skills not given endless automated computerized worksheets. They grow gardens, they take field trips, they perform plays, they attend assemblies, they have time for friends and recess. They are also taught to be aware of others around them, and seek to help those less fortunate. They call it being good global citizens.
On Valentine's Day my second grader helped sell paper flowers made by the second grade students to raise money for Tolong Anak Anak, a charity that helps with the care and education of homeless children.With adult supervision they manned the register, took in money, and made change. They even performed a "commercial" (with my Alonzo as Romeo!) during weekly assembly to remind people to by a flower for someone special on Valentine's and help out TAA. I found out today that they raised over 6 million rupiah. WOW! My children have experienced so many wonderful things at this school. Most importantly they have not experienced high stakes testing.